Peter Plagens

A 'Sensation' About Nazis

Here we go again. Last time around in 1999, the Brooklyn Museum of Art's "Sensation" show enraged many New Yorkers, including the then mayor Rudy Giuliani, by exhibiting a painting of the Virgin Mary with chunks of elephant dung attached.

Fashion Fumbles

Back in the days before team sports uniforms started gravitating toward stock-car drivers' outfits (which is to say human billboards), somebody asked legendary Texas football coach Darryl Royal why the Longhorns' duds were so plain.

Bad Publicity

Ahem! "As technological processes reflect back onto ourselves, altering our methods of perceiving and cataloging, we understand our world more and more in terms of patterns of information." That mucho profondo sentence occurs right at the beginning of the document I have in my hand, and this one follows soon after: "The play of pattern and randomness is seen as [a] main organizing principle of a new era." Are these statements something from an academic press about a new book from, say, that...

A Global Tour Of 2001'S Best Art

This strange year was even a little stranger in the art world. Its world capital was attacked by terrorists just as the important fall season began, and the last place people wanted to go for a few months was to an art gallery in lower Manhattan.

Through A Lens Slyly

The renowned English painter David Hockney says the a-ha! moment for him came during a visit to a 1999 Ingres exhibition at London's National Gallery. He was looking admiringly at a suite of portrait drawings the French academic master made around 1820. "It was the smallness and the speed of the drawings that got me," Hockney says.

Sculpture For The Soul

You wouldn't think that, in times like these in New York City, the two most uplifting art exhibitions around would be of modern sculpture. (Looking at pictures tends to make us happier than looking at objects.)And not only are the shows of modern sculpture, but of objects of unpainted, unadorned, blackish and brownish metal.

A True American Original

When Thomas Eakins (1844-1916) was finally awarded a gold medal in painting at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts in 1904, he said to the academy president, "You've got a heap of impudence to give me a medal." (Eakins had been dismissed from the school's faculty in 1886.) He immediately bicycled down to the U.S. Mint where he redeemed the gold for $73.

Turning Tragedy Into Art

Within minutes of the attacks on the World Trade Center, one artist-photographer, whose show of arctic landscapes sold out last year, rushed into the smoking ruins to take pictures of the hellish scene.

New York Observed

When the ancient poet Horace said, "You may drive out nature with a pitchfork, yet she will ever hurry back over your foolish contempt," he meant (at least in part) human nature.

Unimaginable Disaster, Next Door

Day One: My wife and I live in a very comfortable loft, about 10 blocks north of where the World Trade Towers used to stand.We're "grandfathered" into the place in veritable perpetuity courtesy of New York City's loft laws, which were passed to protect artists who homesteaded formerly derelict light-manufacturing neighborhoods in lower Manhattan. (We're both painters.) And although we by no means qualify as rich, we were also "grandfathered" into an incredibly privileged life: art galleries,...

L.A.'S Master Of Colors

As the comedian Rodney Dangerfield might put it, Los Angeles don't get no respect... at least in terms of the history of modern art in America. The city has always been considered a distant second--maybe even third, after Chicago--to New York.

Critical Moment

Our Opinionated Guide From one to five Stars MOVIES The Others Nicole Kidman and two terrific kid actors holed up in a haunted mansion after WWII.

A Thoroughly Modern Man

A pastel former Methodist church in a manicured, upscale village on Long Island, New York, is perhaps the last place you'd expect to find the painter Malcolm Morley living.

Gray Matter

William Kentridge's retrospective exhibition is currently on view at the New Museum of Contemporary Art in New York. After that, the show goes to Chicago, Houston and Los Angeles.

The Art Of Summer

Two centuries ago any serious European art tour's main destination was Rome: home to a couple of millennia of golden-stoned architecture, a lion's share of the masterpieces of the Italian Renaissance and fresh and beautiful paintings by artists from everywhere else in Europe.

Blase At The Biennale

The connecting flight from London to Venice is practically an art-world charter. It's filled with curators, dealers and a few art critics, and boasts a notable spike in all-black attire.

Our Man In Venice

The sculptor Robert Gober is the sole U.S. representative at this year's edition of the art world's equivalent of the Oscars, the Venice Biennale. (It runs from June 10 to Nov. 4.) Being asked to occupy the American Pavilion--a nice little brick neoclassical building constructed in 1930--with a solo exhibition is like being named best artist.

Arts Extra: Less Is Mueck

Tall and skinny in jeans and sneakers, Ron Mueck looks like he might be just another assistant helping out around the gallery, adjusting the lights on the work in somebody else's highly anticipated first solo show in America.

Harlem Goes 'Freestyle'

Does contemporary art by African-Americans have a necessary "blackness" to it? "I'm not the person to come to for essentialist ideas about black culture," says Studio Museum in Harlem curator Thelma Golden.

State Of The Art

As a glacial wind whipped off Lake Michigan, architect Santiago Calatrava side-stepped the ice-skimmed mud puddles to inspect his breathtaking new addition to the Milwaukee Art Museum.

Another Kind Of Mccarthy Era

You know how one thing leads to another. First you're in art school in Utah in the late '60s and you do some all-black paintings using motor oil. After that, in L.A., you paint by just putting the stuff in your hair and smushing your head against the wall.

Time Tripping

Kathleen Cambor's meditative novel In Sunlight, in a Beautiful Garden(256 pages. Farrar Straus. $23) takes place during the 1889 Johnstown flood. The lyrical Cambor can get so dreamy with questions of love and loss that the pace crawls; when the dam finally bursts--thanks to rich folks who can't be bothered about poor folks--it kills 2,200 people but saves the book.Jeff GilesBlacks have been neglected in fiction about the Old West, and Gabriel's Story(304 pages.

The Dearly Departed

The showbiz Leonardo da Vinci, Allen composed thousands of songs (including "This Could Be the Start of Something Big"), played Benny Goodman on film, wrote books and campaigned against sex and violence on TV.

Gone But Not Forgotten

b. April 17, 1916Growing up in a wealthy family, she had no political aspirations. Then her husband, the prime minister, was assassinated in 1959. The "weeping widow" toured the country giving emotional campaign speeches that won her the 1960 Sri Lankan elections--making her the world's first female prime minister.

The Other Side Of The Opening

A particularly dreary New York day last February was brightened--for me--by a call from Nancy Hoffman, the art dealer who handles my abstract paintings, saying that the curator from the Las Vegas Art Museum had just been in, looked at some paintings dating from the last ten years, and wanted to mount a show of them in November.This was a bolt from the blue.

It's A Knockout, Folks

Kate Sekules's tough-but-tender book "The Boxer's Heart" follows a travel and food writer (Sekules herself) preparing for, and finally going through with, her first and only professional fight. (Her opponent is a wanna-be fashion model with the wonderful moniker "Raging Belle.") In the pages between, Sekules digresses on machismo, vanity and the history of women's boxing.

Apocalypse Now

The 1997 exhibition "Sensation" certainly was one. The show caused a big ruckus at the Royal Academy of Arts in London because of a giant painting of Myra Hindley, the infamous child-murderer, made with imprints of children's hands.

Art Review: The Pluckiest Old Lady Of Them All

We all love plucky old ladies: the one from Pasadena who drove a hot rod in the Jan & Dean song, Ruth Gordon in all those movies, and Clara Peller, who famously asked in a TV commercial, "Where's the beef?" The art world love them, too: Its reigning feisty senior is Louise Bourgeois, the diminuitive 89-year-old sculptor whose latest commission is a 30-foot metal spider in the new Tate Modern museum in London.